Ki Tetzei

By Maureen Kendler, September 9, 2008

"And you see among the captives a woman of fair appearance, and you desire her and want her for a wife, then you shall bring her home to your house" Deuteronomy 21: 11-12

V Ki Tetsei concentrates on the rights of the disadvantaged who must be afforded dignity and protection. Women, orphans, slaves - even hanged criminals - fall into this category.

The sidrah opens with the laws concerning the treatment of a vulnerable victim with no rights at all: a female captive. It was apparently impossible to forbid the taking of female captives in war. But she must be left to mourn her family unmolested.

Flushed with the success of victory, man may well confuse human spoils with what he feels he is due in a moment of testosterone-fuelled triumph. If, after a month, her captor still desires her, he may marry her, but if not, he must set her free. She must be neither sold nor treated as a slave.

In Chapter 24, we read of divorce laws with the assumption that the man is the initiator. The rabbis state that whatever the motivation for a divorce, a wife cannot be thrown out casually.

She must be freed with dignity, protection and no thought of revenge or interference later. After all, as Maimonides reminds us, women are not "captives".

Maimonides also writes: "If a woman says, ‘My husband is repulsive to me, and I cannot live with him', the husband is compelled to divorce her, because she is not like a captive woman, that she should be forced to consort with a man whom she hates."

But the sidrah makes it clear that even captives are not just captives! The legislation surrounding women captives and divorce laws are connected in their acknowledgement that human beings cannot be discarded on a whim without protection.

Last updated: 3:19pm, September 9 2008